Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Celeste Simon's Window

Celeste Simon's Window
Originally uploaded by Snurri.
"One of those displaced was the Swiss diva Celeste Simon, who was in the city for a four-week engagement of 'Il Seraglio.' Her handlers made several increasingly desperate attempts to find a way out of the city, but were no more successful than any of those innocents whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time . . . . In the end one of the Lumina Opera board members installed her in a second-floor apartment at 2477 West Cagliari Street, near the Farmer's Market. For months she hardly stirred, wearing a housecoat over a silk nightgown given to her by her lover, who had left just two days before the Banishing to prepare her Alpine chalet. . . . As life within the city began to normalize, the opera board began to entreat Simon to become a permanent part of the company, but she declined. They persisted, and on May 15, 1968 the entire board assembled at the Cagliari Street location to confront her. Celeste's odor was profound, and her hair lay matted to the sides of her head in great bales. Her housecoat and gown were stained with sweat and grime. She said nothing as the board's spokesman pleaded with her, not failing to point out that her very lodgings were a result of their generosity. For answer, Celeste, still in her housecoat, stormed to the window and threw it open. She took up a lamp and knocked out the screen. . . . The board members were certain she was about to hurl herself out, but instead she leaned out above the market crowd and launched into Orpheus' aria from Orpheus and Eurydice, "Che farò senza Euridice?" Every face in the crowd looked up at her. Traffic stopped. When she finished, there was no one in earshot who was not in tears. . . . From that day Celeste sang every morning, regardless of weather or other circumstances. These free concerts endeared her to the public, most of whom had never seen an opera, but all of whom were willing captives to the magic of her voice. They would gather at dawn in order to find a place outside her window, and when she completed her daily concerts they lauded her with such genuine emotion that Celeste could not help but be moved in turn. Over time she began to take better care of herself, addressing her hygiene and dressing with her formerly accustomed elegance. . . . The opera board desisted in their threats of eviction. They still entreated her to appear in their productions, but she refused. . . . On May 5, 1981, Celeste failed to appear at her window as she had for nearly thirteen years. She had died in her sleep. Her funeral was attended by an estimated 800,000 citizens; her grave, at Buchanan Cemetery, is still visited daily. . . . Today her apartments are occupied by a well-regarded voice coach, although her window is rarely opened." (p.414)


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